Notebook: Lineup choice set tone for UMass against Duquesne

  • University of Massachusetts freshman Preston Santos, left, guards Ashton Miller of Duquesne in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over the Dukes at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Matt McCall shouts to his players in the first half of the Minutemen's 73-64 win over Duquesne at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2020 9:13:09 PM
Modified: 1/25/2020 9:12:56 PM

AMHERST — Matt McCall had a sense of his new starting lineup in the two days of preparation UMass had for Saturday’s game against Duquesne.

In those two practices, the head coach kept the same five players – Samba Diallo, Kolton Mitchell, Tre Mitchell, Carl Pierre and Preston Santos – together and had them practice as a unit for most of the session. There was something about how that group responded to Wednesday’s loss at George Mason that gave McCall the confidence to start those five against the Dukes.

“We talk all the time about bringing that hard hat and lunch pail, and bringing your attitude and bringing your effort,” McCall said. “The guys responded to George Mason the right way, especially that group that was out there on the floor to start the game. I was proud of them.”

McCall’s confidence paid off with how well UMass started the game, laying the foundation for how the Minutemen played for all 40 minutes. It was an ethos and toughness that McCall has been searching for from his team during the recent slide. Nothing seemed to faze that lineup even as UMass struggled to find offense in the opening minutes and continued to miss shots, especially around the rim. Instead, the group hunkered down on defense and limited Duquesne to just 1 of 6 shooting to start the game and force two turnovers as well in the first four minutes.

It’s why McCall stuck with that group for much of the second half and rode the starting five to UMass’ second Atlantic 10 victory. Tre Mitchell said he was impressed by the two freshmen making their first career starts – Kolton Mitchell and Santos – for the competitive fire and resiliency they showcased in the win.

“They stood up to the challenge when their name got called and they made some tough plays causing Duquesne to turn the ball over early,” said Tre Mitchell, who is not related to his teammate. “It just got our energy going and even though things weren’t working for us offensively, we stayed locked in. This is the first time we responded the right way mentally, and I’m extremely proud of these guys for doing that.”

MISSED CHANCES — UMass had 13 of its 18 offensive rebounds in the first half, but managed just six second-chance points off those opportunities. It was a calamity of errors that resulted in a plethora of missed layups and poor decisions around the rim.

Yet the Minutemen were able to convert all five of its offensive rebounds into points in the second half. The difference was simply calming down and relaxing when those opportunities arose.

“At first, we were getting offensive rebounds and we were like ‘holy crap, these dudes are just letting us get offensive rebounds,’” Tre Mitchell said. “That just ramped guys even more and they were like ‘I’m just going to get an offensive rebound myself and just put it back, finish through contact.’”

GETTING TO THE LINE — After complaining about the discrepancy in foul shots the past few games, McCall was pleased with the toughness his team showed in finding ways to get to the free-throw line against Duquesne.

The Minutemen held a 35-25 advantage in foul shots attempted, and they made 27 of their opportunities. More importantly, it was the UMass forwards who earned most of those trips to the line. Diallo and Tre Mitchell combined to shoot 17 of 21 from the free-throw line.

“It started with, especially Samba, with his offensive rebounding,” McCall said. “That’s exactly what you want. It goes back to earning respect from the officiating. It’s not going be me running up and down the sidelines, it’s about us playing game the right way and earning their respect that way.”

SATURDAYS AT MULLINS — UMass is 8-3 under McCall in home games on Saturdays. That total includes memorable wins over Davidson last season, and wins over Providence, Georgia and Dayton in McCall’s first year at the school.

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